“I grew up in Ras El Hein, in Syrian Kurdistan. It was a farming village. There were a lot of fruit trees and vines, it was very beautiful. In spring we would sit in front of the house on the grass and have tea, and all the neighbours would join us. We would chat and laugh until the sun went down. The whole village was like a big family. If someone was in need, everyone helped, and if there was a party, everyone celebrated together. My father had two wives, and there were 15 of us brothers and sisters! All the children slept in the same room. The atmosphere in the house was great.
Unfortunately I had to stop school early because the secondary school was too far away. So I worked in my father’s fields. We grew cotton, wheat, corn. And at that time in Syria, all the farming was done by hand. It was very difficult. We started as soon as the sun came up, and we only stopped for lunch. Here people finish working at 5pm, but over there… phew! We worked until sunset! I had nothing in mind for my future really. As I hadn’t studied, I didn’t have many choices and things to imagine. I had to work and then get married.
I was 32 years old and had three children when I first heard about the war. It was summer, we were sleeping on the roof, and we started to see fires on all sides. Soon there was a lot of fighting, all the time and everywhere. Many people died. It was very scary. Sometimes the children were at school and suddenly they had to leave because there was a helicopter shooting. And they had to run for at least 15 minutes to the house. Sometimes I would stay outside the school just in case. My husband went out every night with the neighbour to make rounds to protect the village. One night my husband did not go, and that night the neighbour was killed.
There was not enough food for everyone. Some families did not eat for several days. And to survive people would steel and kill. A man could kill his neighbour without mercy, as if he was just an animal. That was our daily life. Every day we heard more bad news. We couldn’t sleep. I have too many difficult memories that I can’t tell. If I start, I’ll start to cry. My children are still traumatized today, they have many nightmares.
After two years, we decided to leave. To forget everything and start again. First we stayed in Turkey, then we took the road to Europe. 15 days by train, by car, but mostly we walked a lot. We were a group with no specific destination, with families and children. My sister was even carrying her baby. It was very, very difficult. When it rained, we were soaked sometimes for several days. We slept wherever we could, even on the ground in the street. But all along the way we found food and clothes. I don’t know who put all that there, but it helped us a lot. It was very humane and I felt very welcome.
When we arrived in Switzerland, we were placed in a house in a village near Geneva, in Avully. We arrived only with backpacks, and the house was empty. A person from the municipality accompanied us to do some shopping, and when we came back we found several small baskets that the people of the village had brought. And there was a sheet on the door with the words: “If you have any donations for the family, please drop them off without ringing the bell because they are very tired and need to rest. “When I saw this I was so happy. And every time I opened the door I found something new: food, a hoover, a television.
We have created a very good relationship with the people in the village. We are very comfortable here now. People invite us to their homes to eat, and they come to our homes too. They like my cooking very much! Once I broke my arm and I had to go to the hospital regularly. But it was far away, so they put a little sheet on the town hall and everyone could sign up to drive me to my appointments. That made me very happy! After a year, we had to leave the house. The people in the village rallied round to find us accommodation in the village. And they succeeded! When we moved, we had a big meal with everyone!”
Published as part of the mini-series “Of frontiers and women”, produced in partnership with APDH. | Translated from Arabic